Review: Google Chrome beta released for Windows


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Shortly after 12:00 PM PDT today, Google released the beta version of its new web browser, Google Chrome.  Currently it’s only available for Windows Vista and XP, and only in 32-bit.  I downloaded it and took it for a test drive.

Whenever I install software on Windows, I always customize the installation to eliminate the desktop icon, if that option is provided.  I wasn’t disappointed:

Note that Chrome can import your settings from Firefox and others.  I thought it was interesting that “Make Google Chrome the default browser” was not checked by default.

Here’s the default start page, which includes your most visited sites and recent bookmarks:

As you can see, Chrome uses tabs like other browsers, but it doesn’t use tabs like other browsers.  According to the story, each tab is a separate process (which I verified in Task Manager).  You’ll note also that each tab gets its own address bar.  I was relieved to find that Ctrl-T opens a new tab, just like in Firefox.

I found it odd that Chrome overrides my Windows theme and chooses its own rendering for the containing frame (I’m using the Vista Basic theme, which  should have colored the frame in a graduated gray-blue.  It’s not annoying, but it’s a “does not play well with others” feature.

There is no separate “search” box in Chrome.  Rather, you use the address bar, which Google calls the “Omnibox” (maybe for omniscient).  For instance, when I type “google chrome” in the Omnibox, I get:

The suggested results include not only recently visited sites that mention “google chrome”, but also popular Google search results for “google chrome” and an explicit “Search Google for chrome”.   No more remembering which box to type into.

First impressions: fast.  Much faster than Firefox.  There are several possible reasons.  First, keeping each tab in its own process allows for a cleaner memory management model.

Second, Google has kept this product very simple so far.  Alas, that means there is no facility for extensions short of downloading the open source and adding what you need.   Simple is also why they chose the Apple WebKit rendering engine.

Finally, they’ve created their own JavaScript engine called V8, which provides the following speed improvements:

  1. Multi-threading.  I’m not sure what challenges that may pose for existing single-threaded code, or how to make use of multi-threading explicitly.
  2. Dynamic compilation to native code.  Zoom.
  3. Hidden class transitions:  optimizing for repetitive composition of similar classes.
  4. “Precise” garbage collection.  They keep better track of pointers to objects, and release them as soon as they are no longer referenced.

I ran Mozilla’s own benchmark test for JavaScript at dromeao, comparing various browsers.  Depending on the operation, Chrome could be roughly 2 to 20 times faster  than Firefox or Safari (Internet Explorer 7 kept timing out on me, so you can assume it’s much worse).  You can peruse the hard numbers if you’re curious for Google Chrome beta, Firefox 3.0.1, and Safari 3.1.2, but here’s a visual (shorter bars are faster):

Since Chrome boasts of its memory management model, I decided to load up the same four sites in both Chrome and Firefox to compare.  Firefox’s one process consumed 84 MB.  Chrome’s six processes totaled 91.5 MB.  As I closed the tabs down to one, however, Firefox dropped only down to 75 MB, while Chrome’s three processes totaled 49 MB.  Reloading the same three pages I just unloaded bumps Firefox up to 88 MB, but Chrome only came back up to 89 MB total.  Firefox users are all too familiar with Firefox’s memory creep syndrome to fail to appreciate this difference.

The options dialogs are pretty straightforward as what you would expect to find, but I was impressed by the built-in developer features:

View source automatically comes up in a new tab instead of a separate window (nice).   I haven’t figured out how to use the JavaScript debugger yet, but the JavaScript console appears to have some nice features:

Another feature that deserves mention is “incognito mode”  (New incognito window, or Ctrl+Shift+N), which opens a new browser that will save none of your personal information — aka “porn mode”.  As they warn in the Learn more link, this will not prevent web sites you visit from gathering information from your session, however.

Overall I’m really impressed with this browser.  The one thing I’d miss most if I switched would be my beloved Firefox extensions.  But the speed difference is impressive.

On the other hand, Shelley Powers expresses concern over how well Chrome will support emerging standards, like HTML5 and the new ECMAScript standards.  She also questions Google’s motives for introducing yet another combatant into the browser wars.  Obviously Google wants to increase its influence on the web, and perhaps building their own client may add leverage to their applications.  Will we come to a point where Google can say, “best viewed with Chrome” and let other browsers fend for themselves?  Will future standards be dictated by what Google wants?  At least the project is open source, so other browsers can learn from Chrome if they so choose.

But just how revolutionary is this browser, anyway?  In an email to me before Chrome was released, Shelley quipped: “Hard to say, all we’ve seen is a comic book. Other comic books bring us people who can fly and spin webs–what Google promises with Chrome could be just as far fetched and fanciful.”

If you’re looking for a grand new design for the client side of the web, then you’d be expecting too much.  What Chrome provides is more of the same paradigm, but more efficient and arguably more user-friendly.

What do you think of Google Chrome?  Have you download it yet?





89 Responses to Review: Google Chrome beta released for Windows

  1. My first thoughts: while it isn't near as customizable or feature-rich as Firefox, it's a nice basic browser that gets you from Point A to Point B quickly, simply, and with low clutter. I don't think this will ever compete with Firefox: instead, I think it will fulfill a niche where people don't want the power and customizability of Firefox: they just want to view web pages.

    This hearkens back to the design principles for UNIX tools: do one thing, but do it very well.

    • Sleek and small, its a great browser to use on some thin client computers that boot from flash memory where you just need to check your email or surf to a basic website and don't want to boot up the whole system. (Think back to the ROM booted days of Apple, Atari, and Commodore) Yes, Chrome will fit in there very well.

      For an every day browser, I just don't see how Chrome has a place. But then 70% of the browsers are IE so that shows what the average user finds is good doesn't agree with what most of the readers here would find is good.

      • You bring up an interesting point. Do you think Chrome will eat into the IE market, or take more of a bite out of FF? GigaOm seems to think the latter (it may appeal to geeks for performance reasons, and they're more likely to try out new technology), but perhaps it will have more followers among the web's herd animals — especially if it starts making apps like GMail work better than in they do in IE (that's a tough task, eh?)

  2. My first thoughts: while it isn’t near as customizable or feature-rich as Firefox, it’s a nice basic browser that gets you from Point A to Point B quickly, simply, and with low clutter. I don’t think this will ever compete with Firefox: instead, I think it will fulfill a niche where people don’t want the power and customizability of Firefox: they just want to view web pages.

    This hearkens back to the design principles for UNIX tools: do one thing, but do it very well.

    • Sleek and small, its a great browser to use on some thin client computers that boot from flash memory where you just need to check your email or surf to a basic website and don’t want to boot up the whole system. (Think back to the ROM booted days of Apple, Atari, and Commodore) Yes, Chrome will fit in there very well.

      For an every day browser, I just don’t see how Chrome has a place. But then 70% of the browsers are IE so that shows what the average user finds is good doesn’t agree with what most of the readers here would find is good.

      • You bring up an interesting point. Do you think Chrome will eat into the IE market, or take more of a bite out of FF? GigaOm seems to think the latter (it may appeal to geeks for performance reasons, and they’re more likely to try out new technology), but perhaps it will have more followers among the web’s herd animals — especially if it starts making apps like GMail work better than in they do in IE (that’s a tough task, eh?)

  3. Very nice. I had a few gripes:

    1.It didn't recognize my default browser installation (Mozilla/Seamonkey), so I wasn't able to import my bookmarks or prefs.

    2.The scroll wheel default was the opposite of what every other app uses ("down" scrolled "up"), and it didn't obey the operating system's scroll wheel preferences ("scroll one page at a time").

    Still, I'm very excited about this in the long run.

  4. Very nice. I had a few gripes:

    1.It didn’t recognize my default browser installation (Mozilla/Seamonkey), so I wasn’t able to import my bookmarks or prefs.

    2.The scroll wheel default was the opposite of what every other app uses (“down” scrolled “up”), and it didn’t obey the operating system’s scroll wheel preferences (“scroll one page at a time”).

    Still, I’m very excited about this in the long run.

  5. unfortunately doesnt memorize all my web passwords as easily as firefox does.

    also doesnt let me choose the english spell check now, he supposes i'm writing in portuguese :/

    • On the password front, it seems to only remember one username/password pair for a given page. But other than that, I had no problem.

      Hope Google is listening about the language spell check.

    • If you click on the little wrench on the top right hand corner, then on the "options" selection, then on "minor tweaks" you will see "change font and language settings" then change "spell checker language" option to "English" or whatever other language that you want.

  6. unfortunately doesnt memorize all my web passwords as easily as firefox does.

    also doesnt let me choose the english spell check now, he supposes i’m writing in portuguese :/

    • On the password front, it seems to only remember one username/password pair for a given page. But other than that, I had no problem.

      Hope Google is listening about the language spell check.

    • If you click on the little wrench on the top right hand corner, then on the “options” selection, then on “minor tweaks” you will see “change font and language settings” then change “spell checker language” option to “English” or whatever other language that you want.

  7. Chrome reminds me of Google's Picasa – it does a few things very well, but it won't have you uninstalling Photoshop. Without at least a few of the conveniences of Firefox/IE I don't see it garnishing a large share of the browser market. Time will tell.

    (Chrome didn't recognize my Firefox installation, but otherwise it seems to be working as advertised.)

  8. Chrome reminds me of Google’s Picasa – it does a few things very well, but it won’t have you uninstalling Photoshop. Without at least a few of the conveniences of Firefox/IE I don’t see it garnishing a large share of the browser market. Time will tell.

    (Chrome didn’t recognize my Firefox installation, but otherwise it seems to be working as advertised.)

  9. Simple, easy to use, efficient and fast, what more can I say, I'm impressed with Google once again, they never fail to disappoint. Could we be seeing a revolution in internet browsing just as Google Mail revolutionised e-mail?

  10. Simple, easy to use, efficient and fast, what more can I say, I’m impressed with Google once again, they never fail to disappoint. Could we be seeing a revolution in internet browsing just as Google Mail revolutionised e-mail?

  11. Google Chrome looks very interesting but has a long way to go to pass Firefox in terms of overall use and functionality. I downloaded it as soon as I could and have tried to review all the functionality – it certainly has more than the basics but there are quite a few things I would consider essential missing that l . I f you are interested in a very comprehensive set of screenshots and some notes and opinion to go with them pop over to ProReviewer.com

    Barry Cleave

    • Nice set of screen shots, Barry.

      BTW, the links to the other pages (by title) at the bottom of the first page seem to be dead. The numbered links seem to work fine, though.

  12. Google Chrome looks very interesting but has a long way to go to pass Firefox in terms of overall use and functionality. I downloaded it as soon as I could and have tried to review all the functionality – it certainly has more than the basics but there are quite a few things I would consider essential missing that l . I f you are interested in a very comprehensive set of screenshots and some notes and opinion to go with them pop over to ProReviewer.com

    Barry Cleave

    • Nice set of screen shots, Barry.

      BTW, the links to the other pages (by title) at the bottom of the first page seem to be dead. The numbered links seem to work fine, though.

  13. I seriously hope Google learn from IE and Firefox mistakes and keep this bloat free, stuff like RSS etc should ONLY be optional plug ins, and not come at the expense of spead etc.

    • I agree that they need to keep it lean, but if you're parsing the HTML anyway, how much overhead does it require to recognize an RSS auto-discovery link and put up an icon in the address bar? Very little, I'd say, considering how useful a feature that is.

  14. I seriously hope Google learn from IE and Firefox mistakes and keep this bloat free, stuff like RSS etc should ONLY be optional plug ins, and not come at the expense of spead etc.

    • I agree that they need to keep it lean, but if you’re parsing the HTML anyway, how much overhead does it require to recognize an RSS auto-discovery link and put up an icon in the address bar? Very little, I’d say, considering how useful a feature that is.

  15. Great clutter-free browser. I like that they've maximized screen space for web content. They did away with a status bar at the bottom of the screen in favor of pop-up information when needed (when you mouse over a link, the address glides up from the bottom of the screen). One feature that few seem to be talking about is Application Shortcuts. I created a desktop shortcut that launches my web-based calendar. I'm quite sure that add-ons and java support will be forthcoming, but I agree with "K" and hope that this browser doesn't get cluttered up.

  16. Great clutter-free browser. I like that they’ve maximized screen space for web content. They did away with a status bar at the bottom of the screen in favor of pop-up information when needed (when you mouse over a link, the address glides up from the bottom of the screen). One feature that few seem to be talking about is Application Shortcuts. I created a desktop shortcut that launches my web-based calendar. I’m quite sure that add-ons and java support will be forthcoming, but I agree with “K” and hope that this browser doesn’t get cluttered up.

  17. This browser seems promising to me so far, very good speed and get what I need done. Has easy spell like firefox does, no spell check with opera had me disappointed. As mentioned by a few others if the browser stays lean and is left alone only to fix bugs and implement necessary things this could turn out very well for google.

  18. This browser seems promising to me so far, very good speed and get what I need done. Has easy spell like firefox does, no spell check with opera had me disappointed. As mentioned by a few others if the browser stays lean and is left alone only to fix bugs and implement necessary things this could turn out very well for google.

  19. The speed factor alone is a huge selling point for me–you forgot to mention the startup time, which is under 4 seconds for me, as opposed to 30 seconds or more for FF3. New windows are instantaneous.

    The functionality question will depend on whether Joe coder developers embrace it and create an addon marketplace as good as Mozilla's.

    Rather than an a shot in the browser war (if there is such a thing), think of it as a shot in the Office war. I imagine future versions will aim for seamless integration with Google Docs, et c.

    • I usually leave my browser up all day, so startup time doesn't make much difference (besides, even FF is a heck of a lot faster than booting up Vista). But you're right — the leanness extends to startup as well.

      And I think you hit the nail on the head about the real target here.

  20. The speed factor alone is a huge selling point for me–you forgot to mention the startup time, which is under 4 seconds for me, as opposed to 30 seconds or more for FF3. New windows are instantaneous.

    The functionality question will depend on whether Joe coder developers embrace it and create an addon marketplace as good as Mozilla’s.

    Rather than an a shot in the browser war (if there is such a thing), think of it as a shot in the Office war. I imagine future versions will aim for seamless integration with Google Docs, et c.

    • I usually leave my browser up all day, so startup time doesn’t make much difference (besides, even FF is a heck of a lot faster than booting up Vista). But you’re right — the leanness extends to startup as well.

      And I think you hit the nail on the head about the real target here.

  21. How can I turn the spell checker off? I use multiple languages, and my native tongue isn't even listed.

    This single annoyance makes me not switch from Firefox.

  22. How can I turn the spell checker off? I use multiple languages, and my native tongue isn’t even listed.

    This single annoyance makes me not switch from Firefox.

  23. its fast but security is at question also I was on one site and pop up came up and kept ring…. I'm not sure this is for me give me my ff!!!

  24. its fast but security is at question also I was on one site and pop up came up and kept ring…. I’m not sure this is for me give me my ff!!!

  25. After playing around with Chrome for a little while, I have to say I am fairly impressed with it. It is clearly much faster, and it seems to be a very user-friendly browser. As a geek however, I will probably be sticking with Firefox at this point because when I use the internet, I expect to be able to use all of the useful Firefox add-ons I have installed.

    For a generic browser for merely surfing the web, however, I can easily see why someone would want to choose Chrome.

    • I'm giving it a try as my default browser for a while at least, just to see where the pain points are. I definitely already miss my extensions, but most things are just so much faster that it makes up for the loss. So far.

  26. After playing around with Chrome for a little while, I have to say I am fairly impressed with it. It is clearly much faster, and it seems to be a very user-friendly browser. As a geek however, I will probably be sticking with Firefox at this point because when I use the internet, I expect to be able to use all of the useful Firefox add-ons I have installed.

    For a generic browser for merely surfing the web, however, I can easily see why someone would want to choose Chrome.

    • I’m giving it a try as my default browser for a while at least, just to see where the pain points are. I definitely already miss my extensions, but most things are just so much faster that it makes up for the loss. So far.

  27. The one feature I liked (call me strange) is that when you have a pop-up that isn't blocked it gets minimized to the bottom of the screen. Not having a box pop up over the page I'm trying to read is a great thing.

    I echo the settements of those here saying that this is a nice basic browser that is fast. It definately needs some improving in the plug-ins and toolbars. While I find that other browsers are too busy in this area, I believe that Chrome could use a few more icons. But that's just my .02!

  28. The one feature I liked (call me strange) is that when you have a pop-up that isn’t blocked it gets minimized to the bottom of the screen. Not having a box pop up over the page I’m trying to read is a great thing.

    I echo the settements of those here saying that this is a nice basic browser that is fast. It definately needs some improving in the plug-ins and toolbars. While I find that other browsers are too busy in this area, I believe that Chrome could use a few more icons. But that’s just my .02!

  29. Your review is exactly the first impression that i got. But the only thing that is killing the experience is that oh-so-often cpu 100% spike that froze my computer for 10 seconds everytime i visit a webpage with flash video, like YouTube.

    • Hmm… I haven't seen that. For me, it comes right up. But I'm running a Core Duo 2 Ghz with 2GB of memory. Maybe it has challenges with more restricted environments.

  30. Your review is exactly the first impression that i got. But the only thing that is killing the experience is that oh-so-often cpu 100% spike that froze my computer for 10 seconds everytime i visit a webpage with flash video, like YouTube.

    • Hmm… I haven’t seen that. For me, it comes right up. But I’m running a Core Duo 2 Ghz with 2GB of memory. Maybe it has challenges with more restricted environments.

  31. One thing that Chrome does better than IE7 is Zoom. This is important to me because I surf on my TV. Chrome calls it "Text Zoom"…and the text tends to resize only and formats it so only vertical scrolling is required . IE7 treats the entire web page as one image. The zoom requires scrolling horizontal and vertical. The omnibox is s cool feature.

    • Yeah, I noticed that difference, too. Web page designers who try to match graphics to text can be in for trouble, though. And when sizing elements to fit text, you need to use ems instead of pixels. But that's just good webdev practice anyway.

  32. One thing that Chrome does better than IE7 is Zoom. This is important to me because I surf on my TV. Chrome calls it “Text Zoom”…and the text tends to resize only and formats it so only vertical scrolling is required . IE7 treats the entire web page as one image. The zoom requires scrolling horizontal and vertical. The omnibox is s cool feature.

    • Yeah, I noticed that difference, too. Web page designers who try to match graphics to text can be in for trouble, though. And when sizing elements to fit text, you need to use ems instead of pixels. But that’s just good webdev practice anyway.

  33. I've been using Chrome for a couple of days and it's already my 'default' browser as it's just so quick to start up and surf. The only thing I really miss (as an Opera user) is an RSS feed. That's a major absence for me as I keep tabs on feeds throughout the day. Maybe it's just cool to use an uncluttered and quick program for a change – I particularly like the fact it dumps the Windows frame and maximizes space for the web page. Makes sense as that's what you want to see. For me a very good start. Just not sure if I like one company providing me with everything…

  34. I’ve been using Chrome for a couple of days and it’s already my ‘default’ browser as it’s just so quick to start up and surf. The only thing I really miss (as an Opera user) is an RSS feed. That’s a major absence for me as I keep tabs on feeds throughout the day. Maybe it’s just cool to use an uncluttered and quick program for a change – I particularly like the fact it dumps the Windows frame and maximizes space for the web page. Makes sense as that’s what you want to see. For me a very good start. Just not sure if I like one company providing me with everything…

  35. I agree with you, geeks can sexy and 'crazy', too! I have all Beta Browsers and that a least qualifies me to make some input…I am not going to pretend that I know it all but I am going to report from my experience with three browsers- Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), Firefox 3.0.1 and Google Chromes. I have been using IE7 before I upgraded to IE8 when Microsoft launched recently. Mozilla Firefox has also been with me before I downloaded the 3.0.1 version a week or two ago from Yahoo! I installed all three of them and I have test driving all three of them. In fact, I have all three pinned to my quick launch pad.

    I use a Dell Inspiron 1520 Core 2 Duo (Intel) and I reside in an area (West Africa) where we still have the challenges of small bandwidth. From my experience I would openly assert Google Chrome browser does some 'automagic'. Where Firefox 3.0.1 and IE8 crawl to a halt unable to 'cope' with the signals coming in trickles, Chrome chugs painstakingly on until my page is completely loaded. The only issue I have with Chrome is its difficulty in downloading PDF files. When I want to download PDF file I usually opt for IE8 because it allows my internet downloader do the job. I made Chrome my default browser and I tell you sometimes it could be a 'jealous bride’, it wants to monitor and manage every extensions and protocols. In all, Chrome browser is really a 'man Friday' when browsing speed gets so slow. IE8 and firefox3.0.1 will usually back off.

    If you don't believe me, maybe you should bring your PC to any average cybercafé in Nigeria and get a feel of what I am talking about. The creator of both IE8 and Firefox 3.0.1 did a fantastic job but it seems to me that they released their browsers into circulation so as to maintain their esteemed places in the hearts of surfers. It feels safe to conclude that Google Chrome creators had concerns for the plights of surfers who reside in small bandwidth areas.

    -7nobles

    • That's an interesting perspective, Dennis. In my experience, Google Chrome gives up on page loads sooner than the other browsers. I get a lot more page load failures that are cured by simply doing a refresh.

  36. I agree with you, geeks can sexy and ‘crazy’, too! I have all Beta Browsers and that a least qualifies me to make some input…I am not going to pretend that I know it all but I am going to report from my experience with three browsers- Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), Firefox 3.0.1 and Google Chromes. I have been using IE7 before I upgraded to IE8 when Microsoft launched recently. Mozilla Firefox has also been with me before I downloaded the 3.0.1 version a week or two ago from Yahoo! I installed all three of them and I have test driving all three of them. In fact, I have all three pinned to my quick launch pad.
    I use a Dell Inspiron 1520 Core 2 Duo (Intel) and I reside in an area (West Africa) where we still have the challenges of small bandwidth. From my experience I would openly assert Google Chrome browser does some ‘automagic’. Where Firefox 3.0.1 and IE8 crawl to a halt unable to ‘cope’ with the signals coming in trickles, Chrome chugs painstakingly on until my page is completely loaded. The only issue I have with Chrome is its difficulty in downloading PDF files. When I want to download PDF file I usually opt for IE8 because it allows my internet downloader do the job. I made Chrome my default browser and I tell you sometimes it could be a ‘jealous bride’, it wants to monitor and manage every extensions and protocols. In all, Chrome browser is really a ‘man Friday’ when browsing speed gets so slow. IE8 and firefox3.0.1 will usually back off.
    If you don’t believe me, maybe you should bring your PC to any average cybercafé in Nigeria and get a feel of what I am talking about. The creator of both IE8 and Firefox 3.0.1 did a fantastic job but it seems to me that they released their browsers into circulation so as to maintain their esteemed places in the hearts of surfers. It feels safe to conclude that Google Chrome creators had concerns for the plights of surfers who reside in small bandwidth areas.
    -7nobles

    • That’s an interesting perspective, Dennis. In my experience, Google Chrome gives up on page loads sooner than the other browsers. I get a lot more page load failures that are cured by simply doing a refresh.

  37. The browser is great but there is one little glitch, I use a notebook and on my mouse pad I have the simple scroller for websites or any type of document and it will scroll down but it will not go back up.

    • Does it run Windows? If so, I wonder what Windows message is being sent for scroll up? If you have Visual Studio installed, you could use the Spy++ app to check it out.

      If you're not on Windows, then I have no idea how to diagnose that.

  38. The browser is great but there is one little glitch, I use a notebook and on my mouse pad I have the simple scroller for websites or any type of document and it will scroll down but it will not go back up.

    • Does it run Windows? If so, I wonder what Windows message is being sent for scroll up? If you have Visual Studio installed, you could use the Spy++ app to check it out.

      If you’re not on Windows, then I have no idea how to diagnose that.

  39. I am not sure how to describe this but, I miss the scroll wheel feature that glides the pages when you’ve pressed the wheel.

    Has anyone used this in Chrome?

    • I never noticed before that in Firefox when you press the scroll wheel you get some weird thing displayed in the middle of the page — I’m not sure how to use it, though. So I don’t miss that in Chrome, especially since just scrolling the wheel works fine.

  40. I am not sure how to describe this but, I miss the scroll wheel feature that glides the pages when you've pressed the wheel.

    Has anyone used this in Chrome?

    • I never noticed before that in Firefox when you press the scroll wheel you get some weird thing displayed in the middle of the page — I'm not sure how to use it, though. So I don't miss that in Chrome, especially since just scrolling the wheel works fine.